You’re scared until the first shot

You’re scared until the first shot

Worried sick about something you have to do? That’s normal. And it’ll pass.

That headline up there is apparently an old military saying about stress and anxiety, which makes sense. “You’re scared until the first shot” sounds more logical in a scenario where people are firing guns at you than, say, giving a speech. But really, it’s a useful thing to remember in other situations.

We spend a lot of time worrying about things, especially things that haven’t happened yet, but might. But the good news is, once you’re in the middle of whatever it is you were freaking out about – an exam, a presentation, dental surgery, a gunfight against hostile forces in an alien land – you don’t have time to be scared.

You’re in the moment, reacting to things as they happen, and all the rehearsals, training and study will instinctively take over. Your heart might still be pounding, but when you’re forced to deal with it, you will.

Some athletes use a model for stress called Threat or Challenge, which can be useful for mentally framing the things that are worrying you. A threat is something that makes you feel underprepared, like you don’t have the personal resources or knowledge to deal with it. A challenge, on the other hand, is an opportunity to prove yourself, to achieve personal growth or shoot for a high score.

So what does this mean for you now, in the panicky time before your scary task? It means you should focus on getting prepared, and try to ignore the blood pounding in your ears, the heart thumping in your chest and the churning in your bowel. They probably won’t go away, but that’s not the point. The point is seeing yourself as getting ready to face a challenge rather than a threat.

And when you hear that first shot, your fear will fade into the background. Go for it!


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